Life After Power

Next week's Commonwealth heads of government summit in Nigeria is a make or break moment for the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the initiative designed by Africans to modernize Africa's governments and economies. Zimbabwe's ongoing economic decline under the misrule of President Robert Mugabe has raised doubts about NEPAD's key innovation, its self-monitoring instrument, the African Peer Review Mechanism. For, if Mugabe can be let off the hook, will NEPAD's peer review process ever work?

The question is a legitimate one, because when African initiatives fail, they usually fail because of a lack of political will to follow through on commitments and declarations. The stark inability of Africa's leaders to constructively criticize their peers contributes mightily to this.

One cause often proposed for this damaging phenomenon is the emphasis that many African cultures place on mutual respect. But mutual respect does not preclude telling people the truth. Africa's great hope is that its "new generation" leaders--most prominently President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, who helped spearhead NEPAD's peer review process in the first place--acknowledge this fact.

So far, 16 countries have voluntarily acceded to the peer review process: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda have declared their readiness to submit to scrutiny by their peers in what now constitutes the African Peer Review (APR) Forum. The first two countries to be reviewed will be Ghana and South Africa. A Panel of Eminent Persons and a Secretariat to oversee the process is now in place. Review work, it is hoped, will begin early in the new year.